Fred Holland Day
b. 8 July 1864; d. 12 November 1933
He was born in Massachusetts. A wealthy man, he spent much of his fortune on causes, and dressed and acted in a manner which labeled him as an eccentric. He first dabbled in painting, but then took up photography.
Day was a prominent member amongst American photographers at the turn of the century, though he subsequently became somewhat eclipsed by Alfred Stieglitz who largely became the voice of American photography for the next couple of decades.
Day’s images depicting frontal nudity met with considerable opposition, not because were tasteless but largely because were often nude male youths . Day spent a lot of time among poor immigrant children in Boston, tutoring them in reading and mentoring them. One of those kids was a Lebanese thirteen year old call Kahlil Gibran.
He deliberately used an uncorrected lens, which recorded a halo round highlights of the images. Just before the turn of the century Day decided to portray the last seven days of the life of Christ. This project he planned with meticulous care, and since he decided that he would play the part of Christ he grew his hair long and virtually starved himself before the photographs were taken. He then hanged himself on a cross, using fake nails.
Alvin Langford Coburn, a relative, ascribed the beginning of his career as a photographer to Day, and together they sought to promote photography as an art-form. One of Day’s accomplishments was to organize a major exhibition of work by progressive American pictorialists such as Kasebier, White, Steichen, Eugene, Coburn and himself. This exhibition, which contained 375 photographs, over a hundred being by Day, was held at the Royal Photographic Society in 1900. It was controversial. One report stated that the exhibition “Is not equaled by anything since the publication of ‘Naturalistic Photography’. In organizing it the Royal Photographic Society has done more in the interests of pictorial photography than if it got up a hundred Salons, or made a chain of Linked Rings from the earth to the moon.” Whilst the “Photographic News” saw it as the product “…of a diseased imagination, of which much has been fostered by the ravings of a few lunatics…unacademics…and eccentrics”
In 1904 much of his collection of fine art images (two thousand it has been estimated) were destroyed in a huge fire; the majority which remain (just over a hundred) were presented to the Royal Photographic Society by Frederick H. Evans in the 1930s.
One of the effects of the Russian Revolution and the First World War was that the production of platinum (which came from the Urals) virtually came to a stop. Becoming unhappy with any other existing process, Day lost interest in photography.